Sick of Dinner

Posted: June 16, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

My recent gap in posting was unfortunately due to being sick, so I wasn’t all there enough to write down any coherent thoughts last week. I’m doing ok now — 24 hours of sleep helps! But the real casualty is that I was supposed to host a dinner party for four the day I could barely keep my eyes open at work. It was a real shame because I had a totally bomb menu planned taking advantage of my CSA greens and was looking forward to catching up with old friends. Sigh.

After coming home just a couple of hours at work and sleeping for 7 hours I realized though I wasn’t hungry all the food and supplies I bought were going to rot if I didn’t cook something so I thought ‘To hell with it’ and just made most of what I had planned in the first place and figured I’d eat the rest later. This turned out to be a damned good idea because it was probably one of the best dinners I’ve ever made. Too bad no one else was there to have any!

First off, since it was to be a sort of special occasion after not seeing friends for so long, I had bought four fillets of salmon. Right there that made dinner fancier than usual. Sure it was a little more expensive than groceries normally are but I figured I was saving money with all the produce I had acquired. And besides, pesto was involved and pesto with tilapia doesn’t jibe as nicely, at least in my mind.

Next, last week’s CSA share consisted of some veggies outside of my usual repertoire, like escarole. I have nothing against it but I didn’t know what to do with it and I figured I’d use it all up first. This is how I came up with a Braised Escarole with Cannellini Beans appetizer. Ok, I didn’t “come up” with it but I did read that escarole and white beans go together superbly and I found a fantastic recipe along with much commentary at this website. so no, I did not create it.

Discovery: escarole needs to be braised or sauteed for quite a while since it’s pretty bitter raw! The recipe I just linked to was absolutely delicious. Had I served it to friends It would have been spooned atop whole wheat flatbreads as an appetizer but I ate it as a side. The recipe can also be more like a soup, if that catches your fancy.

As the main, my CSA provided us with a simple but delicious recipe for Pan-Seared Salmon on a Bed of Baby Greens with Dried Cherries along with a recipe for an orange zest dressing. (Thus the salmon purchase!) Uh, yes, this was truly amazing. Lucky for me, one of the farmers is a trained chef and sends us weekly recipes and ideas!

The only real “recipe” part to this was the dressing, since it’s: plate some baby greens. Make the dressing. Pan-sear the salmon (skinned) on both sides for a few minutes until each side is golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Dress the greens using half of the dressing. Place the salmon on top of the greens. Drizzle the rest of the dressing along with the dried cherries that have been marinating in the dressing. Voila! I used golden raisins instead which worked just as well! So here is that dressing:

Orange-Zest Salad Dressing
- 2 1/2 tbsp champagne or white wine vinegar [I used red wine vinegar]
- 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
- 1 tsp orange zest
- salt, pepper
- 1/4 cup dried cherries [I used golden raisins]
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine except olive oil and set aside. Pan-sear the salmon in the meantime, instructions above. Remove cherries/raisins from dressing. Whisk the olive oil in until blended. Dress half of it onto the greens. Plate the salmon. Drizzle remaining dressing on fish with cherries/raisins to garnish. Serve.

Simple but seems so fancy. Also, way, way tasty. Since I received so much spinach last week I had made some spinach with walnut pesto to use some of it up and scooped some atop the fish too. It was a very thick pesto, more like a tapenade. Either way it was good too. With all of these lettuces and greens I will need more salad dressing ideas so if anyone has any please let me know! I really don’t make them myself too often.

I would have made a grain as a side but just for myself, this was all much more than enough. Dessert was some blueberries and strawberries. Hopefully next time people are over for dinner I’ll be able to cook something just as special.

Fresh From the Farm

Posted: June 2, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

As a pretty-much vegetarian most of my grocery bill goes to fresh produce. Gush over Trader Joe’s as much as you want but I’ll never be much of a fan as long as they offer scant veggies and fruit — almost none of it organic at that! Previously I mentioned that I am joining a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, where us city (and suburban) folk buy shares of wares fresh from the farm. There are lots of advantages to this for both sides but I’m mainly excited for the guaranteed weekly vegetables. Now I can splurge on fancy stuff at the grocery store since the CSA is paid for in advance! Yeah, I’m looking at you, skyr.

Yesterday was the very first day of my CSA‘s pickup and my fellow foodies and I were quite impressed by the haul:

Now, I have a half-share, so everything listed on the sign is halved and split with my partner, some guy the coordinators paired me randomly with. While this is a cool way to meet new people in the CSA community, the guy never answered my email when I asked a logistical question and he hadn’t shown by the time I arrived. Not sure what’s up with that. A generous afterthought is that any leftover shares goes to the synagogue that hosts this CSA’s homeless shelter kitchen, so they will have fresh veggies themselves. Maybe that’s where this guy’s stuff will end up.

I eagerly carried my swag back home and cleaned them all now so I won’t have to waste time doing so later this week. Vegetables have to be koshered too: rinse or swish them in water three times, no more, no less. This is to assure that there are no insects hiding underneath leaves and one of the most forbidden things Jews can eat are insects. This took a long time!

Helpfully, the CSA sent out a newsletter the day before indicating what we’d be receiving along with a recipe, because I sure don’t know what do to with all of these greens. This week it was for a mango salsa and it contains cilantro:

Mango-Cilantro Salsa
Serves 3
Recipe by Maryellen Driscoll

1 heaping cup chopped mango (thawed, frozen mango works fine)
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons mild-flavored oil, such as peanut, walnut or grapeseed
Large pinch of red pepper flakes (or minced fresh jalapeño, amount to your liking)

Combine all of the above ingredients in a small bowl. Season with kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let sit, refrigerated, for up to 4 hours before serving.

Luckily I happened to have mango and limes on hand, but not peanut oil, so I just used olive oil. I also spiced it up with pepper and chilli powder but it remained pretty mild. I was considering eating it for dessert but I think I will let it set in the fridge and marinate it on some fish tomorrow.

Mostly I was dreaming about eating bok choy but now that I think about it I have no idea how to prepare it! Instead I made a giant-ass salad and used maybe 1/8 of this week’s veggie haul. Bok choy will require some research.

In this salad is romaine, mixed greens, arugula, sliced radishes, a couple of stalks of green onions, half of a plum tomato, a handful of pumpkin seeds (raw), chickpeas, one beet, broccoli florets, 3 cloves garlic and dried raisins, cranberries and a couple of pecans. The dressing is a spiced olive oil/red wine vinegar/honey mix.

From the first bite you could tell these greens were fresh from the farm. The leaves are bigger, the texture silkier — especially the mixed greens, and all in all they were more flavorful too. This was picked THIS morning! Isn’t it amazing? And isn’t it furthermore amazing that people have so lost touch with the land and what they choose to consume that it’s novel, almost revolutionary, to buy food from farmers? Wow. I wish more people were able to experience this, especially for those that vegetables at all are considered a luxury.

On the other hand, this is a ton of food. Not sure how I’m going to use it all up every week, especially if earlier in the season means less items. Does this mean this is the least amount of stuff I’m going to receive for the next 21 weeks?? Eek. Weekly dinner parties at Rita’s?

A Cool Dish for a Hot Day

Posted: May 5, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s the beginning of May and it is unseasonably hot! While I love Summer, I’m not ready for sweltering subway rides, humid apartments or blazing sun yet. Is Spring really over?

To decide what to cook for the week, over the weekend I flipped through recipes I’ve collected over the years from farmers markets; most of them here in New York distribute fliers to give people ideas on how to prepare the fresh veggies they sell. Genius idea. (For example, what does one do with ramps? I still don’t know but I suppose I can easily find out at the next farmers market I browse through.) Nothing really caught my eye until I spotted a cucumber-purslane-yogurt salad dish — purslane being another vegetable that I have no idea how to prepare. However, the description for this recipe said it was a lot like tzatziki, and inspiration flashed.

A long while back, I had made a beet tzatziki and I could have sworn I had the recipe somewhere in one of my binders but I could not find it for the life of me. So, I made it up. Using the “yogurt salad” recipe as a template, I went to the grocery store and purchased two bunches of organic golden beets, a tub of Total 0% Fage Greek Yogurt, a few other ingredients and was good to go. Normally I love, love, love their 2% but I figured I’d cut the calories a bit and go with the 0%. For it to be less runny, however, go with the whole milk or 2%.

Anyway, tzatziki is a great accompaniment on most dishes on a hot day. It’s a Greek yogurt sauce that you can dollop on grains, greens or I guess meat, not that I’d do that, haha. It’s refreshing, especially since I added cucumber and mint. Also, it’s super easy to make!

Preferably whenever you cook with beets you are roasting them yourself, because buying them pre-sliced in a can has tons of sodium! Check it out. Just know that prep time will be at least an hour if doing so.

Golden Beet Tzatziki with Cucumber and Mint
- 1 bunch roasted golden beets (about 4) or you can use regular red beets if preferred
- 1 to 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint
- 2 cups Greek yogurt, whole preferred but can use non-fat if desired
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Separate beet from greens, which can be cleaned thoroughly and put to another use. Scrub beets and slice off the roots, then place in pan and bake until a knife can easily poke through the skin, about an hour and a half or less. When finished, they should be easy to peel. Let cool until you are able to handle, then remove the skin. Slice into thin strips.

Place beets, cucumber and mint into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine Greek yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and coriander and season to taste with salt. Add the vegetables and mint to the yogurt mixture and mix well. Add a pinch of pepper. Taste, then season further if necessary. Serve chilled as a condiment or a side. Serves 4.

Tada! So refreshing on those unseasonably warm days.

Dumpling Woman

Posted: April 28, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , | 3 Comments »

For the past week and a half I’ve been serving jury duty in the City Hall area of Lower Manhattan. It could have been worse. Though it’s busy at work for me at the moment and despite waiting around the majority of the time, in a few ways it was a very pleasant experience. I got to see the legal system in action, though it’s far less exciting than Law and Order; I performed my civic duty; but best of all is that the courthouse is a block away from Chinatown!

That’s right. Dim sum and dumplings for lunch. Mmm.

Not only was I able to frequent a few new places I’ve been meaning to try, it was also really cheap. Like, $2 for eight veggie dumplings cheap.

Dumplings are basically the perfect and one of the most versatile meals. Many cultures have their own variation on it, like pierogies (Polish), kreplach (Eastern European Jewish), ravioli or gnocchi (Italian), gyoza (Japanese), etc. Dough stuffed with either sweets or savories! You can’t go wrong no matter what you do. Many dumpling houses or restaurants will sell theirs frozen in addition to fresh, so you can take them home and cook them yourself, but I’m sure you can make it yourself from scratch. That’s why you’re reading this, right?

Since I’ve been working overtime to make up for my lost hours in the jury box, please forgive me this time around for not creating my own recipe, but enjoy this one from Chow:

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings (Zhēngjiǎo) Recipe


Makes: Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, 6 to 8 as a snack or starter

For the filling:

* 4 cups lightly packed, coarsely chopped spinach (7 to 8 ounces)
* 4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and liquid reserved, stemmed, and chopped (1/2 cup)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
* 3/4 teaspoon sugar
* 1 1/2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons sesame oil
* 2 tablespoons canola oil
* 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
* 1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
* 3 ounces brown pressed tofu, finely chopped (2/3 cup total)
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
* 1/2 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions (white and green parts)

To form and serve:

* 1 pound Basic Dumpling Dough
* 2/3 cup Tangy Soy Dipping Sauce


1. To make the filling, put the spinach in a large bowl. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and pour a generous amount over the spinach. Let the spinach wilt for about 30 seconds, drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. To remove excess moisture, squeeze the spinach in your hands over the sink. When you are done, there should be about 1/2 cup firmly packed spinach.
2. In a bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, salt, white pepper, sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set this flavoring sauce aside.
3. In a wok or large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until aromatic. Add the spinach, carrot, mushrooms, and pressed tofu. Stir to combine and then pour in the flavoring sauce. At first all the liquid will seem to have been absorbed, but after 2 minutes, there will be a little bubbling liquid in the skillet. At that point, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir and stir it into the filling. When the mixture thickens, turn off the heat and add the Chinese chives. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool completely before assembling the dumplings. You should have about 2 cups of filling. (The filling can be prepared 1 day in advance and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before assembling the dumplings.)
4. Form 16 wrappers from half of the dough. Aim for wrappers that are about 3 1/4 inches in diameter.
5. Before assembling the dumplings, line steamer trays or a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. (If you are making the dumplings in advance, or freezing them, lightly dust the parchment paper–lined tray with flour to avoid sticking.)
6. To assemble the dumplings, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of filling with a bamboo dumpling spatula, dinner knife, or fork and position it slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wrapper clear on all sides. Then fold, pleat, and press to enclose the filling to create a half-moon, pea pod, big hug, or pleated crescent shape. If you are steaming right away, place the finished dumpling in a steamer tray, sealed side up and 1 inch away from the edge if you are using a metal steamer. Repeat with the other wrappers before forming and filling wrappers from the remaining dough, keeping the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel as you make the rest. If you don’t have enough space on your steamer trays to steam all the dumplings at once, or if you are not steaming them right away, place the waiting ones on the prepared baking sheet spaced a good 1/2 inch apart.
7. Once all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours; they can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on the baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer them to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and keep them frozen for up to 1 month; thaw completely on lined steamer trays, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before steaming.
8. To cook, steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 8 minutes, or until slightly puffed and somewhat translucent. Remove the trays and place each atop a serving plate.
9. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce, either in a communal bowl with a spoon or portioned into individual bowls or dipping sauce dishes. As with all jiǎozi, it is easiest to eat these with chopsticks in one hand and soupspoon or rice bowl in the other, angling the bowl or spoon to catch any drips.

Moroccan Fish

Posted: April 7, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Passover ended yesterday evening and I’ve been spending the past week and a half on vacation visiting my parents back home. My mom, for this very strictly kosher holiday, has insisted on cooking everything the entire time. “It’s your vacation,” she says, “And besides, I love cooking for you.” That must be where I get it from. What’s a Knife-Using Pretty Girl like me supposed to do?


Here’s a quick, delicious, healthy (and kosher-for-passover) tomato-based dish that anyone can make, courtesy of my mom. She calls it Moroccan Fish, though you can use the stew and seasonings on chicken as well. It made for a fantastic Monday night dinner. ;)

Moroccan Fish

- Fillet of fish (tilapia or salmon works well, though most any fish can be used)
- Olive oil for sauteing
- Large yellow onion, chopped
- A few cloves of crushed garlic, to taste
- At least one red bell pepper, slivered or chopped
- 2 cups of diced tomatoes (or can substitute one 16 oz can of diced tomatoes)
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin: all to taste
- Cilantro or parsley (optional)

In a large pan over medium heat, saute chopped onion for a few minutes, until soft. Add garlic and sautee for another minute, but don’t let it brown. Add the red pepper and let soften, which will take a few minutes. Add the tomatoes. Sprinkle the pinch of sugar, the salt, pepper, cayenne and cumin. Add clinatro or parsley if doing so. Adjust to taste. Once the stew is thick and spiced appropriately, add the fish to the pan. Let it cook in the stew for a while, then flip so that both sides absorb the flavor of the stew.

Alternatively, you can bake the fish if that is your preference. Place the fish in a tray and smother with the stew once it’s ready. Wrap the tray tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or so, or whenever it seems to be done. Adjust the amounts of ingredients based on how many people you are cooking for!

If you only have eggs, you make the stew, crack a couple of eggs on top, sprinkle in some zahtar and voila! You have shakshuka, an Israeli staple dish. It goes well with pita bread.

P.G. Drunken Brunch of the Month, Take 1

Posted: February 10, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: brunch, Rita | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

As much as I love my fellow Pretty Girls, we don’t see each other so often, what with each of our hectic schedules and vastly different neighborhoods we reside in. Most of us might be in the same city, but that doesn’t mean it’s so easy to get together! As Johanna mentioned, regularly hanging out is a new goal of ours, and thus the first ever Pretty Girls Drunken Brunch of the Month was born. If anyone can do homemade brunch, it’s us!

For the inaugural edition I decided to use a gravalax recipe I’ve had for over a year but never found the right occasion to make it until now. Joh made scandalously good bagels and green pepper jelly and Bakezilla brought the prosecco and juices; a perfect trifecta of brunch.

I’ll leave it to her how she actually made such wondrous, bready delights but you can certainly have my gravalax recipe! It came out great, especially considering I’d never made it before!

- 1/4 filet salmon (it doesn’t have to be the highest quality, necessarily)
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Handfuls of dill
- 1/2 tsp all spice (optional but recommended)
- Slices of fresh ginger or 1 tsp ground ginger (optional but recommended)
- Freshly ground black pepper

Debone the salmon, if necessary. Set aside. In a bowl, add the salt, sugar and optional spices together. Rub both sides of the filet with the salt mix. If there is skin, just rub the exposed side, or remove the skin and do both if preferred. Garnish each side with pepper and smother each side with dill, enough to cover the sides completely. Slice the salmon in half and fold together. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap then place in a ziplock bag and refrigerate for 48 hours minimum. The salmon should be weighted down and turned over every 12 hours. When it’s done, rinse off and pat dry with a paper towel. Slice, serve.

After all of us eating almost a dozen bagels fresh out of the oven, the entire plate of gravalax and consuming the whole bottle of prosecco, for having great times with friends on a lazy, brunchy Sunday, I deem the first round of PGDB to be a success!

Special Delivery

Posted: February 3, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments »

Not to brag or anything, but my mom is a great cook. Really! If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then all the women in my neighborhood back home particularly fawn over the recipes for her brisket, salads, and stuffed grape leaves, all of which they have appropriated for their own meals (and then served back to us when our family comes over for dinner).

My mom also likes to send her scattered kids care packages on occasion. Imagine my surprise when a small box arrived at my doorstep the other day, no return address. There’s only one person who it could have been from. Inside, of all things, were brand new containers of spices, ginger, coriander and cumin, as well a (broken) bottle of light soy sauce. A note was included, written on the back of an envelope:

“Dear Rita,
Here’s a recipe inside for a wonderful marinade I made with tuna steaks — unbelievably good! Works with any fish and I imagine chicken and other stuff. Enjoy!!! XX I love you…. Mom”

That just about melted my heart. Tucked inside the envelope was the recipe.

Ginger-Soy Marinade
2 garlics [sic] crushed
2 slices ginger
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
2 tsps sugar [or sage? Hard to read. Knowing my mom, it's sugar.]
Optional: 1 tsp chili powder

When I asked her about the recipe, she said for tuna steaks it only needs to marinade for 10 minutes, since the tuna absorbs sauces quickly. Upon my asking her to clarify whether that meant 5 minutes per side for 10 minutes total or 10 minutes each side, she said, “I don’t know, I don’t do things so exact.” It’s also good for chicken. Cook it on a grill pan and you’ve got yourself a tasty dinner.

This story doesn’t top what she sent my brother though! I’d love to see the look on his face when he opened his box and found… an eggplant along with a head of garlic and a can of chopped tomatoes for a simple eggplant salad, which we eat tossed with pasta or on its own as a side.

Eggplant salad
1 eggplant
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsps olive oil
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 small can tomato sauce
2 tsps sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the eggplant and soak in a bowl of cold water. Set aside for at least 10 minutes, then remove eggplant from bowl and squeeze out the excess water. In a large saucepan saute the garlic in olive oil until lightly browned, then add the tomatoes. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar on top, stir, and saute until soft. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce and the remaining sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the saucepan and cook on a low heat, checking every 10 minutes or so until soft. Adjust salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Serve warm for best results, though it can be refrigerated for later.

Together, these two recipes will make for a delicious meal! Does anyone else’s mom send packages like these or just mine?

Seven Species Salad

Posted: January 20, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

Tu B’shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, is next Saturday and I’m still unsure of my plans. Originally I had wanted to throw my own seder but it seems more and more like I won’t have the time (or money) to coordinate it! Luckily there are many excellent organizations having their own event but it’s usually for the best, I’ve found, to do things yourself. Or at least, it can be more fun that way.

Since Tu B’shvat is minor — the two Jewish cookbooks I own barely give it a paragraph, let alone specific recipes — and since it has been reinvented many times, I’m going to assume that as long as one sticks to the basic idea of the holidays as a New Year for the trees, then you can interpret and celebrate it any way you’d like, including what recipes to make!

One consistent custom, however, is to eat the seven species of fruit and grain mentioned in the Old Testament, which are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates; all of which are healthy, flavorful and nutritious. Just mentioning these foods all together sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it? The reason there generally aren’t recipes for Tu B’shvat is because the above-mentioned foods tend to be eaten separately and not cooked, like nibbling on a bunch of grapes rather than eating something deglazed in red wine, say. That doesn’t mean we can’t come up with something, hmm?

If you’d like to combine them all into one dish for efficiency’s sake, it’s very easy to transform this into a salad:

Seven Species Barley Salad
Serves 4 – 6

- 1 cup pre-soaked hulled barley, cooked and cooled (see below)
- 3 teaspoons pomegranate juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 4 – 6 figs, quartered
- Handful of red grapes, halved
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta or gorgonzola cheese
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup Whole wheat croutons (see recipe below)
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- Dates, sliced, for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper

Note on the barley: though pearl barley is more common and takes faster to cook, the nutritious bran has been removed. In this way, pearl barley vs. hulled (complete) barely is like white rice vs. brown rice. If you want all the nutrition, go for the hulled, but you’ll need to pre-soak for many hours before cooking. Do this by placing the amount of barley desired in a bowl or container with double the amount of water and let sit on your countertop overnight. Done! You can even cook the barley in the water you soaked it in. Visit this website for more detailed info.

To boil barley: “The ratio of barley to water is 3 cups water for every 1 cup of barley. Over high heat, bring the barley and water, uncovered, to a boil. Cover, and reduce the heat to low. Allow the barley to simmer for 45 minutes. Do not add salt to your barley until AFTER it is cooked, since it can block absorption of water.

“Cooked barley will always retain some chewiness. You’ll know your barley is done when 20 percent of them have burst open. You can use the above method with non-pre-soaked barley too. Follow directions as above but cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours instead.”

For the whole wheat croutons:
- Whole wheat bread
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Chopped fresh oregano, basil, thyme, or other favorite spices

Take a couple of slices of whole wheat bread and crumble into bite-sized pieces or smaller. In a small bowl combine oil and spices. Lightly coat the bread pieces in the mixture and place on baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees until crispy, a few minutes.

Ok, onto the recipe itself!

While the barley is cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate juice and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the olive oil and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Combine the barley, red bell pepper, figs, grapes, preferred cheese, croutons and sliced almonds. Add the dressing and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with date slices. Serve immediately or allow to sit in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour.

Important note: since I just made this up I haven’t attempted to make this recipe yet and I’m not sure if it works! Let me know if you try it yourself and tell me how it went! I suspect it needs lots of tweaking.

There are so many ways these seven ingredients can be combined! I’ll have more on that next week.

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.